Ok, I hope the title got your attention. Now before you scroll down to the bottom of this blog entry to post your comment on how ignorant I am, please read on.
Chiropractors are not “real” doctors in the same way Dr. Phil isn’t a “real” doctor, and the way a veterinarian isn’t a “real” doctor. Ok, I know I’m going to get into trouble for that last one, as someone very near and dear to me is a veterinarian. In fact, I made a deal with this individual that I would wear a particular t-shirt to my first day of medical school. The shirt read: “Real doctors treat more than one species!”
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the thing that unites Dr. Phil, chiropractors, and veterinarians is the fact that they didn’t go to medical school, yet they are all called “doctor.” Don’t get me wrong, each and every one of them has earned the highest degree in their respective field and appropriately deserves the title. The problem is that for the majority of people the term “doctor” means “medical doctor,” which implies medical school.
In the somewhat recent past there was the addition of a doctorate in nursing, which has led to the following confusing situation for patients: “Hello, I’m nurse-doctor Johnson,” or some similar combination of the terms nurse and doctor, or more alarmingly with the “nurse” part left out altogether. Again, these nurses have earned the highest degree in their field, but you can imagine how confusing this is for the patient. You may say this is just semantics and who really cares? Well, maybe it is just my background in philosophy but I believe that words have power and their precise meaning is important. Remember Bill Clinton’s famous line about “it depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is?
In 2001, the Institute of Medicine released a report titled “Crossing the Quality Chasm. A New Health System for the 21st Century.” The report’s focus was that medicine needs to be “patient centered,” which necessitates a well-informed patient that can actively participate in medical decision making. I feel that being well-informed starts fundamentally with knowing who you are seeing, and what their educational background is.
Again, I’m not disparaging chiropractors, nurses with doctorates, etc, but I think we in the medical field need to be clear with our patients. Also, patients shouldn’t hesitate to ask their doctor questions about their training, other treatment options, or the number of times they’ve done a procedure. A visit with your healthcare provider should be a dialogue and not a one-sided paternalistic monologue.
My future blog posts will focus on clearing up medical myths. I have people in my own family who believe doctors and pharmacy companies have a cure for cancer but they are withholding it from the public.
My favorite site for medical information on the web is emedicine.com and my favorite site for debunking internet mythology is snopes.com. I’ve found that emedicine requires a log-in if you search while on their site. However, if you go to google (or another search engine) and type in “diagnosis + emedicine” (e.g. strep throat emedicine), usually the first link will be to the emedicine site, which will allow you to get to the article without having to log in.